Bogleech.com"s 2015 Horror Write-off:
"Dr. L████’s second narrative"
Submitted by Huw Saunders
I have just eviscerated Kevin Parry, or VIC-0027, beginning as I always do with the slice from the sternum down to the pubis, then cutting around the neck. From there, I have peeled the skin back from the cranium, possibly made easier by how he was beaten to a pulp – all those superficial injuries acted like perforations. Then it was a simple matter of opening the cranial cavity with a light power saw and dissecting the brain.
“So believe me, there was nothing wrong with it,” I conclude. “Bar the trauma.”
“Not again,” says Mr Morris.
“No harm done,” says Francis. “This is well within reasonable levels of panic and vigilante action.”
“Two people died for nothing. Two more are in prison, because of the zombie panic we set off,” I say. I’m not sure I got the scorn across, so I shake my head too.
“Yes, and this is the fourteenth such incident.” And most of the victims, I think to myself, are still lying around in here. “This one wasn’t even particularly bad. But compared to a simulation of how it might have been, we are well ahead. I mean, we’ve kept this place secure! In half the simulations we ran, the hospitals became big old vectors, and then things got really bad.”
I glance at the police officers by the door – faces covered by balaclavas and full visors, sub-machineguns in their hands. Even in the morgue that seems unhealthy – particularly since they must get bored, just watching us carve people up. The worst part is, he’s right, this room could easily have been a zombie breeding ground if the past few days had gone much differently.
“What was your simulation – Re-Animator?” I ask.
“Mockery is the last refuge of the scoundrel, doctor,” grins Francis. Without thinking, he pats me on my gloved hand. I watch his expression freeze as he touches the clotted gore, and I get a little bit of satisfaction. Now he’s the one with blood on his hands.
“Ok, we can go ahead and pencil Laura in as confirmed,” says Pat from the far end of the room, pulling his hand out of Laura’s brain and pulling off his gloves. Poor guy’s been through more cadavers since this began than his first two months here.
“Sorry about that,” Francis tells me, inclining his head as he wipes down his palm.
Laura was the duty nurse who was working when they brought in Euan Jones – which seems like a lifetime ago, or at least a full week. I never knew her that well – I feel like I got a better feel for what she was like, as a person, from reading the transcript of Home Office bogeymen bringing her in.
Obviously Francis provided that transcript as well. I’m starting to feel like they’re a kind of subtle torture, reminding me of the unabridged horrors out there, outside this nice cosy morgue where at least I can try to make sense of things. And Laura, poor Laura, she listened to what they had to say, about infection and contagion and our best guess was that the thing’s blood-borne. She paused for thought, then said she had been feeling a bit impulsive recently, and quietly, calmly came along with them.
The transcript didn’t mention how Laura died, and neither did Francis. All I know is what Pat mentioned at the start of his examination, which was that she had a few recent puncture wounds – like from a hypodermic – in her upper arm. At least she kept her head, that’s something.
Francis checks his phone, and nearly curses. “Some lunatic’s putting it about that we’re actually dealing with body-snatcher mind control. I need to stamp on this.” And he flashes me a real GQ cover-boy smile, I bet he practices that. “Keep saving the world, guys.”
After Francis has swept out, Pat asks me “Do you think he’d kill us too? If he had to?”
“Oh, probably,” I say. “It is his job.”
“Speaking of, take a look at this.” He beckons me over to the top of Laura’s head – open and gaping wide. He points out an area of soft tissue inside the cranium, it looks ragged, torn up.
“You’re sure that wasn’t you?”
“No. Look.” Using a scalpel, he pokes at the tattered parietal lobe, lifting a flap of flesh. There’s more damage further inside, and it looks like it goes deeper, it almost looks like the tell-tale CJD holes. “CJD would never do that, right?”
I’m sure I’m onto some grand conclusion, when something buzzes past my eyes. The fly zips round my head twice before alighting on Laura’s brain.
“Not again!” I say. “Where are they coming from? It’s like we’re infested.” Yesterday I was examining a woman who vomited her own head off in a shopping centre. I left for five minutes, to grab half a coffee, and when I got back every orifice of the head was crawling with flies.
“Don’t be shitty,” Pat tells the fly. He swats at it tentatively, trying not to swat Laura’s brain as well. It completely ignores him, then a few seconds later scuttles down the brain and sits on the table in front of me, like it’s taunting me.
I look closely at it. It’s not a bluebottle, I can tell that much, it’s not blue. And it’s smaller than the average housefly, thinner and more slightly built. For some reason I am certain it’s the exact same kind we keep seeing around the morgue.
As Pat brings his hand down, I catch his wrist, surprising myself. “I’ve had a thought,” I say. Keeping him safely away from the fly – who is just watching us, bemused – I snatch a piece of Pyrex off the table behind us, and swing my arm in one great decisive arc to bring it down over the fly. “Go and get me some paper. I’m going to visit an old friend.”
I walk a little way from the hospital before calling the taxi. When it arrives, the driver sees I’m carrying around a trapped fly, and I glare at him through the mirror until I’m absolutely sure he won’t mention it.
“Did you hear about the outbreak?” he asks eventually. “In fact, wasn’t it you on the news?”
Do I lie? Tell him, no, that was just another pathologist who looks awfully like me? “Yeah,” I admit. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to anyone.”
“No bother,” he says. “You’ll be, what, like, a doctor, then?”
“Yeah. A pathologist. Basically I look at the bodies –”
“I know what a pathologist is,” he says.
“Sorry,” I say, looking out the window and feeling like a pretentious monster. My first rationalisation is that he knows the term from CSI, which is even worse. For all I know, one of his relatives died horribly, and he was forced to become intimately aware of the ins and outs of forensic pathology. “What do you make of the zombie stuff, then?”
“Well, to be honest, I just think – you know – really? Zombies, really?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” We pass a parked police car, and then a house with its door shouldered in. “It’s – I want to say it’s not zombies, it’s more of a, for want of a better word situation. We’re reasonably certain it’s some kind of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.”
“Oh, sorry – it’s a lot like Mad Cow Disease, only in humans.”
“Ah, the mad cows, I remember all that.” I see him frown in the rear-view mirror. “Nah, I’m thinking of foot-and-mouth.” He is fairly young – I suppose he would be aware of Mad Cow Disease, only second-hand.
The radio pipes up with Francis’s voice, saying “The infection is highly contagious and is known to be transmitted through bodily fluids. Report anyone acting strangely or aggressively to the authorities. If you have experienced a loss of impulse control –”
“Turn this rubbish off,” I sigh, and he looks genuinely shocked at how cavalier that sounded.
“What do they call it – bit of a busman’s holiday, yeah?”
We are coming out of town now, and I can breathe a little easier not seeing the tell-tale signs of chaos on the streets. As we pick up speed, I tighten my grip on the glass, the paper, and the precious cargo inside. When we get to the interchange, I see police blockades set up on the dual carriageway below us. We keep on the high road and drive straight over them.
“So, how’s business been?” I ask the driver. “Many people getting out of town?”
“Just the opposite,” he says. “They begged me to work today, half our drivers are bivvied down at home – wanted to be with their families or something.”
“It’s not the end of days,” I say scornfully, and as the driver nods agreement, I think to myself, how would I know? Perhaps this was all foreseen by some religion I’ve never heard of.
We are at the feet of the mountains, which have been coming up in front of us since we left town. It is, at least, a relief that the outbreak happened here – in a place that can be nicely pinched off from the rest of the country. Thinking again of the blockades, I keep my eyes on the sky, watching for any police or mountain rescue helicopters who might be watching for us.
I breathe easily when we come onto an old walled road, under the cover of woods on both sides. It is now that a police car roars out of a dirt path and latches onto our tail with its sirens flashing. They’ll probably make us turn back, maybe I should try saying I’m a close personal friend of ‘the Majestic’.
“Do not stop for any reason,” I tell the driver.
“You gone mad with power? We’re breaching quarantine! They’ll kill us! They’ll kill me!” He takes a shaky look over his shoulder, still accelerating. I look back too, and they really don’t look happy with us. “Oh God – no, we shouldn’t run, we should stop and-”
He turns back to the road, screams, and slams on the brakes seconds before we hit the side of a blind bend. We stop with a bump, against a black-and-white ‘go that way, turn, for God’s sake’ sign. The police car crashes next to us, much more violently, the bonnet warping, the windscreen turning stress-white like a sudden frost.
I wince, thinking guiltily that this was too impulsive of me – maybe I’m infected. Maybe the driver was, too, to go along with this. And the police? Maybe it doesn’t take so much to be dangerously impulsive. All I said was ‘don’t stop for any reason’…
The fly is fine, safe inside the Pyrex. I lean forward to see the driver is unconscious over the steering wheel. “That’s okay,” I say, dazed, “I’m probably fine from here.”
I am walking up a hill, not even a hill, not round here, more of a rise. It is awful, but I wouldn’t dare call another cab. Besides, it’s not far from here to Crazy Beckett’s house, if I remember.
I’ve only ever been to his the once – he had a big housewarming when he moved out of town, not long after the group got their PhDs. We got to know him in a first-year cellular anatomy module. Most of us were doing medicine, of course, wanting the prestige of the white coat. He had other plans.
As I stumble on a rough patch at the side of the road, it occurs to me that if some farmer sees me, limping along a country road, he won’t need much provocation to give me both barrels to make sure. Remove the head, destroy the brain, everyone knows the old maxim. I’m amazed we haven’t got it being broadcast round the clock.
Thunder creeps into my ears from behind. It’s the middle of the day, it can’t be thunder. I look over my shoulder and there’s a big air force plane in the sky, bulky and olive. Oh, that seems ominous. Still, it’s probably big enough that it’s not after me specifically.
I slowly realise that’s why I didn’t report the crash, why I didn’t call an ambulance or a tow truck. Some idea of ‘them’ finding out I’m off on a secret mission into the back of beyond, to visit Crazy Beckett.
Should have told Francis, I decide, feeling warm and lightheaded. Maybe the flies are acting as a vector, I’ve got a friend we can consult – and he’d have sent me off with an armed guard. How didn’t he see it? With them buzzing around the morgue, waving themselves in our faces.
It seems very horror-movie now. A plague of the dead and fly-blown dying, coming to take society. Maybe it’s a good thing I got out of the city, I tell myself as I walk down what I think is the right drive.
Beckett lives in a nice converted farmhouse, which might not be such a bad place to hide out for a while. As I come nearer to the gate, he’s crouched in his front garden facing the other way, one arm around a huge, bronze-furred dog. I smile to myself that he hasn’t changed a bit.
“Good girl!” I hear him say, shuffling his hand over the dog’s side. “Good, sweet girl – that’s it, go on!” I can see its head is dipped, like it’s eating something. “Yeah, you’ve earned it.” I walk along the gate to get a better look. It’s feasting on a fat mole.
Beckett looks up, sees me, and needs a second to think before saying “Doctor Bonesaw!” with a look of joy. “I haven’t seen you since I moved in!”
“Hey, Crazy Beckett,” I say, and climb the gate surprisingly easily. He starts saying “No no, wait,” before a second hunting hound crashes into my side and bears me to the ground.
The fly is safe. More than it’s ever done for us. I pour cold water on my head while Beckett puts it under the light to take a proper look. “You recognise it?” I ask. “Is it a biter, by any chance?”
“Lovely specimen,” he says, running his fingers over the Pyrex. “Not local, are you? No, not a biter, maybe a stinger though.” That would still make sense. So it must be them – thank God that one’s sealed off.
“Can you check it for infected human blood?” I consider the consequences of letting the thing loose. “Kill it first.”
“I don’t,” he says simply, “you know that.”
“I thought you’d abandoned your vows,” I say, “you just had Lamarck here eating a mole.” Lamarck is rubbing up against my legs and licking her bloody chops, as though she’s trying to comfort me.
“That’s her choice. Maybe the squirrel had a family, I don’t know. I have the privilege of knowing it’s a tragedy. It’s not Lamarck’s fault she doesn’t.” He sits up straight. “So, infected human blood. Good thing I still remember my zombie survival plan.”
“Very Black Death, isn’t it? With the flies.”
“They can’t be a huge vector.” I bang myself into the tap. “This one’s a non-native species. It’s a blip, who knows where it came from, but the rest’ll likely be houseflies.”
“No,” I insist, this has to be it, they’ve been everywhere, “no, they’ve all looked like that.”
He freezes for a moment. “I may have a thought.” He scoops up the fly, knocking aside a tower of books and plates, and leads me through to another room. I follow, with Lamarck licking my hand. It is pitch-black through here, and warm – the house is heated but here it is warmer.
Beckett cracks a glow-stick, and illuminates the wall of vivariums behind him with a soft green haze.
“I used to use candles,” he says, reaching out towards some horrible mantis, “but it bothered them.” He blinks, seeming to remember why we’re here. “Right, yes, let’s consult Brother Jonathan, I’m nearly certain he’s written on this.”
He turns to a sort of lectern, puts the fly down on it, and cracks open the big old book on it – embossed on the front are the words ‘Wojcik’s Horrificata’. Something in the dark brushes my neck and I try not to think about it.
“Thorax, pronounced hump,” he mumbles, flicking through the index at the back while glancing at the fly to check. “Head, rounded, vertex, flat…”
By the dim light, I can see a butterfly or moth alight on Lamarck’s snout. She doesn’t seem bothered. I move to get a look at the book over his shoulder, and whack my shin against a bucket of dead mealworms.
“You, uh, spend much time in here, Beck?” I ask. It’s the kind of place you could go crazy. It’s also a lot like the room I used to study in for my Masters.
“A lot of these little guys are fairly light- and heat- sensitive,” he says, not looking up. “And the Horrificata here is best kept out of harm’s way. It’s sort of legally questionable. If an inconsiderate person wanted to know how to unleash wave after wave of fire ants or Africanised hornets – which would just be cruel, round here, this is a temperate zone – they could do a lot worse than Brother Jonathan.”
He flips through the book again. Then he turns around, and looks up at me.
“It’s not a stinger,” he says. “It’s an ovipositor, an egg-layer.”
“You were right,” Pat’s saying down the phone, and I’m still amazed there’s any signal here. “I had two of the techies check. There’s some unknown enzyme at work.”
“Tell Francis to bring in…oh God, I don’t know,” I say, “pest control? It’s the flies, we thought they were just a vector but they’re the ones doing it, it’s not the CJD at all, it’s their larvae, they’re eating the brain tissue!”
“Still seems a lot like zombies,” is Pat’s only response as I storm outside, not sure if I’m seriously considering walking all the way back.
“It’s a type called phoridae pseudacteon, it lays eggs inside things. The larvae eat the brains, then make the head fall off and come out fully formed – why are you still listening to me? Do something!” I hang up, jabbing my phone with real violence.
“You still want to stay here, till everything blows over?” says Beckett from the doorway.
“No, I have to, have to do something about this.” Go on TV again, panic everyone, again – tell them all to get a really good fly-swatter. Jesus, what can I do? They’re flies, they get everywhere!
“There was a security organisation that contacted me, last year, about the dangers of pseudacteon.” No wonder, he always loved thinking up ways insects could cause the apocalypse. In fact, he wrote his dissertation on that. “Because, like I say, normally it attacks and zombifies ants. Not simians.”
“You think it could really be done?”
“I fear to think,” says Beckett, voice barely a whisper. “Plenty of parasites do already. Toxoplasmosa gondii, plenty of people are infected – it only really brings psychosis in rats and smaller mammals, but even so, there’s not much of a leap. I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s been done to these pseudacteon, but – oh, speak of the devil.”
Francis’s Jaguar is coming up the drive. He must have tapped my phone again. Then I think - the security organisation. The people who must know what’s going on. Mr Morris gets out, and I can see this going horribly wrong. If he’s in on this, he’s probably about to pull out that gun he has and shoot Beckett dead – yes, and then Lamarck will tear his huge sinewy throat out.
Mr Morris blinks in shock, before brightly saying “Dr Beckett! I didn’t know you knew the good doctor here!”
“Hello, Mr Morris!” says Beckett cheerfully. “I haven’t seen you since I was consulting!”
“Can’t stop to chat, I need to get her back to the hospital. The gaffer needs her to talk at some people from the Beeb.”
“That’ll be the zombie thing, right? Funniest thing, we’ve just been –”
“Good to see you, Beckett!” I say quickly, before he lets everything loose. “And you must tell me how you make those cakes! But I really have to be off now.”
“What are you – oh, I get it.” He tips me a huge wink. Mr Morris, miraculously, doesn’t pick up on it – he’s moving for the gate, so I quickly go to meet him, for fear of Lamarck introducing herself.
All the talk about simulations. Not seeing how the flies might be involved. And how much fun Francis seemed to be having, the whole way through.
I glance in the wing mirror. Beckett’s house is dwindling in the distance, looking eerily peaceful. I hope nothing happens to him. Who else is going to look after all those crawling things?
“So, you and him –?” asks Mr Morris, not really asking anything.
“Oh, yeah,” I say, not really involved.
“Say no more. Decent guy, I thought. Yeah,” he chuckles, “when Francis was on the Syrian embassy I used to slope off all the time to go and see the Mrs.”
Beckett couldn’t tell me what’s been done to these ones, to make them attack humans. I can’t imagine how they’d adapt from ants to humans on a physiological level. All I know is that doing that would need money, and resources, and basically the kind of setup that lets people swan around in classic cars and shoot potential threats.
If Francis knew what was really going on, then he was far too eager to let me and everyone else believe it was zombies. Not just eager, enjoying it, like it was all going to plan.
And why would he have tapped my phone, in the first place? Was he just browsing through the phones of all the land’s medical professionals, in case something bad happened? Or did he know what was about to happen?
Of course Beckett was afraid to think this could really happen. I couldn’t believe it at first either, I certainly didn’t want to. Given the choice, I wouldn’t want any of this to ever happen. But here it is, and I’ve solved the mystery of how. Good for me, that’s really made it all better.